Co-Founder of Motion Nutrition and Sponsorship Director at Agon Sports Management
Ex Professional Swimmer and Commonwealth Games Athlete
Summarise your career within professional sport thus far Joe…
I was a junior national level swimmer in high school (in France), but didn’t really pick the pace up until I spent a year in Australia where swimming is the national sport. After this I had reached a level which allowed me to join an elite training group at the University of Stirling in 2009, where I was subsequently rewarded with scholarships, governing body grants and Winning Student grants. I was a contender at British level between 2009 and 2014, won several medals at Scottish nationals as well as French nationals. I managed to progress every year and my best season came in 13/14 when I was selected to compete for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games, where I reached my goal of racing in the final. During this season I also prepared my transition to my work life, knowing the relatively short shelf life as a professional in the pool.
How did you first get involved in the sport? And when did the opportunity come to join a professional club?
I got involved in my local swim school at the age of 6, and joined the competition group within the same club aged 13. At this point, my swimming coach suggested I focus my energy on swimming and drop my other sport (rugby). This wasn’t a professional club although all my costs were covered. I joined a professional club in France in 2011 after essentially being ‘scouted’.
What was it like, to train and compete as a professional athlete, with and against some of the country’s brightest talents?
For a couple of years I was fortunate enough to have the support of a professional club in France, who I competed for several times a year, as well as the support of the governing body, my university, and Winning Students in Scotland. This was awesome. In my eyes I had the best coaches, the best training facilities and the best racing opportunities I could hope for, and I was getting the support I needed to do what I loved. It really was a win-win.
To date, what’s been your biggest sporting achievement?
There are a few occasions when I put in some great performances in my career, but the best achievement for me was competing at Commonwealth Games and representing the home national, in front of a home crowd and improving my personal best time to reach the final.
Having completed a degree as a scholarship athlete, at what point in your career did you make the decision to combine professional sport with education?
The two things went hand in hand for me. Being based at a university like Stirling I had access to the best facilities and staff, and could easily go to class between training sessions. It was a hectic timetable and one that took lots of commitment, but that’s exactly what I had – commitment to being the best I could be in my sport as well as in my studies.
Looking back, making the transition from professional sport, to professional work must have been difficult. What where the main challenges and how did you manage this change?
I consider myself lucky to have graduated in 2013. This was perfect timing for me to focus on the 2014 Commonwealth Games and on the transition to the professional world. I had great guidance from my Performance Lifestyle Manager at the Scottish Institute of Sport. The main challenge was finding the right moment for the transition, and thinking about the transition ahead of time even though my energy was focused on my sport.
Tell us a little about what you are doing now?
I now work at Agon Sports Management, a sports marketing agency launched in 2013. I look after some of our key athlete and corporate accounts, building and maintaining brand image, building sponsorship relations. I’m also responsible for athletes’ PR and their yearly schedule planning. I got involved with Agon during my final year as a competitive swimmer, which then led on to a full time role.
Sounds great!…So having made the transition, what do you think your time growing up as a professional athlete has given you, that you are now applying in your current role?
A few real key aspects that have really helped me be successful so far….
Commitment to a process
Understanding for different cultural needs and behaviours and how this affects communication requirements
I have learnt, and experienced these first hand as an athlete, and now I am playing in a different field, but applying some of the same attitudes and skills. For me, I now deal with athletes on a daily basis, so I can understand and empathise with everything they feel and think, which gives me a great advantage.
Having made the transition from professional sport into the commercial world, how do you think elite level athletes can transfer their success to business?
The best advice I can give is to remember there is more to life that your sport. Even when you are 100% committed to your life as an athlete, remember to be socially aware and open to meeting people around you. Build relationships: these could be useful in the future. Make time for your sponsors, your club’s sponsors and directors, deliver more than what is in your contract. This has no doubt helped open doors for me outside life as an athlete.
And finally, what piece advice would you give to professional athletes who are making the transition into the professional world?
Make a clear point of putting forward the specific skills that you acquired through your sport but remember the person you are speaking to might not have an appreciation for elite sport. The key is in explaining in relatable terms why your professional career as an athlete has given you additional skills. This is where The Transition Phase can really add value.